Le is remembered at funeral service

Annie Le's brother Dan Nguyen, left, carries her casket with family members after her funeral on Saturday in El Dorado Hills, Calif.
Annie Le's brother Dan Nguyen, left, carries her casket with family members after her funeral on Saturday in El Dorado Hills, Calif. Photo by AP Photo.

EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. — At the front of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church sat a casket draped in a white cloth, bathing in the sunlight that poured through the church’s large windows. It contained the body of Annie Le GRD ’13, the 24-year-old doctoral student whose remains were found 15 days ago in the Yale research lab where she worked.

About 600 family members and friends gathered here on Saturday afternoon for Le’s funeral mass, where the Yale graduate student was honored in Catholic prayer and remembered by her family for her outgoing personality in addition to her intelligence.

The fiancé of Annie Le GRD '13, Jonathan Widawsky, leaves the funeral mass at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church on Saturday in El Dorado Hills, Calif.
AP Photo
The fiancé of Annie Le GRD '13, Jonathan Widawsky, leaves the funeral mass at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church on Saturday in El Dorado Hills, Calif.

“It was through these little things that she did — her silliness and friendliness and not her academic achievement — that she made the most impression on us,” said Dan Nguyen, whom Le considered her brother, in his eulogy.

Nguyen spoke about the “silly girl” that Le was, describing her playing with stuffed animals even when she was older, watching cartoons with his younger brother and “talking to [Dan] as if [he] was still a 5-year-old.”

Le’s uncovered casket was brought in by her brothers and cousins, Nguyen among them, who dressed in black suits with white scarves and gloves.

Members of Le’s family — including her mother, siblings and maternal great-uncle — gave eulogies in Le’s memory. Her fiancé, Jonathan Widawsky, whom Le was supposed to marry on the day her body was found, looked on stoically.

Le’s mother, Vivian Van Le, addressed him directly, saying, “Jon, even now Annie is gone, but I still have you. I love you very much.” She then read a poem in Vietnamese, which Le’s brother Christopher translated: “Farewell, my child,” it began. “You are here lying in the cold coffin.”

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, who attended the funeral, said he was touched by Le’s family’s tributes to her life.

“They just demonstrated what a remarkable role she played in the family and they were all just enormously proud of her as a person,” he said. “They loved her in a very special way that came out in the eulogies.”

Before the service started, Monsignor James Kidder, the church’s pastor, described meeting Le for the first time as a child and recalled her big smile, which stood out in a crowd of children.

“The family is hoping this day and this ceremony will be a real moment, not just in the sense of putting Annie away, but in the sense of reconciling,” he said.

During the service, Kidder spoke about Le’s connection to Jesus in her life and death and her emotional dedication to her chosen field of medicine. He cited her care of the sick and her volunteer work at Marshall Hospital in El Dorado County.

“[She had] a heart that led her to say she wanted to do the best and be the best, to keep people from having their lives cut short,” Kidder said. “Ironic, isn’t it, that her life was cut short?”

After three Biblical passages chosen by Le’s family — from Job, Paul to the Corinthians and Matthew — were read in both Vietnamese and English, Kidder and the other religious leaders present led the guests in a traditional Catholic Eucharist.

The bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento, Jaime Soto, referenced the violent nature of Le’s death. An autopsy report concluded that Le had been strangled.

“We do not let cruelty or violence own the sorrow,” Soto said. “We let love own the sorrow. It was Annie’s love for her family and friends, for her fiancé, that give us such sorrow, as well as our love for her.”

As the service concluded with the hymn “Be Not Afraid,” the guests filed out of the white-walled church. Outside, Le’s mother wept.

There was a private graveside service following the mass. Yale will hold a memorial service for Le on Oct. 12 at Battell Chapel.

Brittany Bottini reported from El Dorado Hills, Calif., and Esther Zuckerman from New Haven.


  • Rachel Williams

    As the media spotlight is fading away from this horrific event at Yale, the attention to the violent potential at work place may fades away along it. I’ve heard stories of cruel treatment of graduate students by technicians in the College of Engineering at Purdue University, West Lafayette IN for years. But, according to the victims, not much was done about it. I guess Purdue is waiting to share the media spotlight with Yale before they do something about it.

  • Anony

    Just because she read the poem, it doesn’t mean that she wrote it. Just because she gave birth to Annie, it doesn’t mean that cared for her and she raised Annie and helped her become the beautiful person she became. Her aunt & uncle are the ones who cared for her, would never seek the spotlight, and wouldn’t be able to hold it together during a supposedly emotional speech.

  • Helen Li

    To Anony: You do not know anything about Annie’s family, so please keep your inappropriate comments to yourself at this sensitive time when the pain for her mother and family is still so raw. I am Chinese. In our culture, if a widow/divorcee remarries, it is customary to have the children of the first marriage to go to live with a relative because there is an unfortunate taboo of being “tow boat children (following one’s mom to a new husband”) Even remarrying in itself could brand a woman as second class. In my generation, it is true for all classes of Chinese. Nowadays, Chinese who live in Hong Kong or the west are much more enlightened but I really don’t know whether the taboo in some form or the other still survive. My sister is a widow of ten years who has never remarried. The children are in their early twenties now, but my family would not like them to go to the home of a new husband if at all possible then or now. We don’t know about Annie’s situation. Maybe the arrangement was for her education; or her mother was busy in her career and needed help; again in eastern culture, it is very common. I certainly helped raised those kids in England, going so far as shining their shoes on prize-giving days. Nobody could question a mother’s love for her child. Her aunt and uncle might be just shy and not able to speak in public with confidence. I don’t believe I even read such cold-blooded comment.